The Mexico Trilogy or Mariachi Trilogy (also Desperado Trilogy on some DVD releases) is a series of American/Mexican contemporary western action films—El Mariachi, Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico—all written and directed by Robert Rodriguez. All three films tell the continuing story of central character, El Mariachi (portrayed by Carlos Gallardo and Antonio Banderas). The films were released in theatres between 1992 and 2003, and later on a complete DVD trilogy box set in 2010.
The trilogy began with the 1992 ultra low-budget production of El Mariachi. The film was made on a budget of only US$7,000 using 16-millimeter film, was shot entirely in Mexico with a mostly amateur cast, and was originally intended to go directly to the Mexican home-video market (a process detailed in Rodriguez's book Rebel Without a Crew). Reportedly Rodriguez got some funds for the film by offering himself up as a human guinea pig to science labs. Other finances came in the form of prize money won by his short student film, Bedhead, at film festival competitions.
Executives at Columbia Pictures liked the film so much that they bought the rights to it for American distribution and eventually spent several times more than the film's original production budget on 35 millimeter film transfers, a marketing campaign and the eventual distribution/release of the film. It was so well received that they eventually chose to finance the second part of the trilogy, Desperado, and subsequently the final chapter, Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
A recurring theme of the Mexico Trilogy deals with El Mariachi being alone as all of his loved ones die in front of him.
The first film, El Mariachi, tells the story of an out-of-work musician, known simply as El Mariachi (Carlos Gallardo), traveling through Mexico. He arrives in a small border town, hoping to find work in some of the local cantinas and clubs. Unfortunately for the man, local hoodlums mistake him for a recently escaped convict who has been hunting down his former associates with a guitar case filled with weapons. As the story progresses, El Mariachi falls in love with a woman who helps him hide from those who are trying to kill him, and eventually sees her die at the hands of those same men. He seeks revenge for all he has been put through.
The second film, Desperado, continues El Mariachi's (later portrayed by Antonio Banderas) quest for revenge where he finds a new love and quenches his thirst for revenge.
The third and final film, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, revolves around a failed coup attempt on the President of Mexico wherein El Mariachi is the hero who saves him. El Mariachi also seeks revenge on the murderer who killed his wife.
All three films were made using Rodriguez's "Mariachi-style" of filmmaking in which (according to the back cover of his book Rebel Without a Crew) "creativity, not money, is used to solve problems." Thus, all three movies have been extremely profitable. El Mariachi was made for $7,000 and went on to gross more than $2 million in its theatrical release. Desperado was made for $7 million and grossed over $24.6 million in US theaters. Once Upon a Time in Mexico was made for $29 million and grossed over $56.3 million domestically and an additional $41.8 million worldwide and holds the box office distinction for being the most improved second sequel of all-time grossing 122% more than Desperado.
All three films have won various prestigious awards. El Mariachi won the Audience Award at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival and the 1993 Deauville American Film Festival and Best First Feature at the 1994 Independent Spirit Awards. Desperado saw Salma Hayek nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 1996 Saturn Awards, and was nominated for the Bronze Horse at the 1995 Stockholm Film Festival. Once Upon a Time in Mexico won two Imagen Foundation Awards for performances by Antonio Banderas and Rubén Blades, was nominated for two Satellite Awards, winning Robert Rodriguez an award for Best Song ("Siente Mi Amor") and Johnny Depp a nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Comedy or Musical and the movie's impressive stunts landed it two Taurus World Stunt Awards nominations.
A TV series adaptation of the El Mariachi franchise premiered on March 20, 2014 on AXN.